the rating game

City devises plans to evaluate teachers who lack principals

Three months into the start of the school year, the Department of Education is just figuring out how to rate more than a thousand itinerant teachers.

Under the current teacher evaluation system in place in nearly all schools, principals rate teachers once a year as either “satisfactory,” or “unsatisfactory.” They are also supposed to offer advice to help teachers improve.

But when the city and UFT struck a deal this summer to avert layoffs, they agreed to move members of the  Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers who do not have permanent positions, to a different school—with a different principal—each week. The agreement left open the question of who would observe and rate those teachers.

In a year when the city and union are fighting fiercely over the particulars of new teacher evaluations, officials from the United Federation of Teachers told me they have left the decision of how ATRs will be rated up to the DOE.

Now the city has decided that ATRs will receiving ratings from their district superintendent, officials said, with input from the principals of schools where they were sent to work over the course of the year. The city is also testing out other options.

Teachers have raised concerns about the fairness of the process. At union meetings early in the school year, ATRs questioned how their performance could be evaluated when there is little consistency in their jobs: They typically teach a different set of students in a different classroom each week or receive non-teaching assignments, and they spend as little as one day in each school. Some members of the ATR pool said they have been asked to teach subjects outside of their licensed content areas.

The city is piloting one alternative rating process in Brooklyn. Through that program, newly hired “field supervisors” will help some Brooklyn superintendents rate ATR teachers this winter. The supervisors, who were drawn from a pool of assistant principals and principals, will evaluate the teachers’ instructional practices and offer them professional development, according to DOE officials.

Union officials said that ideally the field supervisor would act as both rating agent and career coach, guiding the ATRs toward open, permanent positions at district schools. But DOE officials did not list that role among the supervisors’ job tasks.

A letter the DOE sent to ATRs in Brooklyn last week said the field supervisors would observe the ATRs in the classroom “periodically” over the next two months.

DOE officials said they would analyze the results of the field supervisor initiative at the end of the school year before deciding whether to expand the position to other boroughs.

A Bronx technology teacher in the ATR pool told me last week that no one has observed him in a classroom so far this year. Having a supervisor could be useful, he said, but he would rather the city offer him financial support to get new training to make him a more desirable hire.

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.

 

Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

Newsroom

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Spokane, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”